By Chandran Nair

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia:Do people have a right to settle in another country? The answer to that is unfortunately No.

But they have a right to apply for residency, and there are domestic and international laws that govern this process. Under international law, countries have a right to deny them access.

These decisions are then scrutinised by the world at large, based usually on the nature of the humanitarian issues confronting those seeking a new home.

This applies to the refugee situation in Europe, the USA-Mexico border, and in many other parts of the world, often complicated by colonial history and the legacy of displacement.

However, once granted citizenship these people are by law equals and must be treated as such. A Mexican in California who became a US citizen even a year ago has equal rights in the eyes of the law, just like Donald Trump’s forebears, who were migrants from Germany.

A Black person in London like the Arsenal soccer player Saka, with family roots in Nigeria, is a UK citizen and not considered a migrant.

Yet the fact that the Mexican or the Black person can be subject to discrimination and racism of all forms is a violation of their rights and is a reflection of the lack of progress in these societies – they must nonetheless be protected by the laws of the land from this abuse.

In Malaysia, it is interesting to note that there is a school of thought amongst Malay nationalists who would like to establish a system of nationhood framed on the idea that Malaysia is for Malays and that Malays have special rights -despite being the majority – and that other citizens are guests in Malaysia or considered migrants, and thus have lesser rights which means they can be abused.

This is both perverse and peculiar.

In recent weeks, statements by former leaders and others have once again provoked a wholly unnecessary and toxic discussion that is both divisive and unproductive with reference to this issue.

Various interpretations of the Constitution have been offered to justify these senseless arguments.

Irrespective of any self-serving interpretation of the Constitution it is time the government of Malaysia makes the following very clear, especially before the coming elections: Malaysia belongs to all Malaysian citizens and it is not a country for just one race, the Malays.

In a recent and excellent article, the MP for Tuaran argued that if die-hard Malay nationalists would like to create such false narratives then it would also be correct in such framing to say that the Malays of Peninsular Malaysia are colonialists seeking to dominate and oppress the indigenous populations in the resource-rich states of Sabah and Sarawak, who are the majority in East Malaysia.

After all, Malays are not the majority – nor are they the only sons of the soil in these two states – and therefore not the owners of the resources of these two states, which their elites have plundered for their enrichment, in cahoots with other non-Malay citizens.

That would be a logical argument to make if one accepts the illogical and illegitimate idea that Malaysia is the land of the Malays only.

The truth, despite the shenanigans of these supremacists, is that the two states of Sabah and Sarawak are part of Malaysia, which is a multicultural country where no one race has special rights to lord over the others.

Every citizen has equal rights and if that is not the basis by which they are treated by the state then that treatment is unconstitutional. Importantly, this should not be conflated with affirmative action and the NEP, which most Malaysians support but which has been hijacked and turned into a system of entrenched institutionalised racism, protected by the elite Malays to preserve their rent-seeking privileges.

To deprive others of their equal rights based on race or religion is morally wrong and even anti-Islamic. There is a term for this, globally: racism and institutional discrimination.

It has no place in international law or in the minds of all people seeking to live in a just and fair world. This is not a matter of spurious or specious interpretations of the Constitution.

It is a question of not allowing institutional racism to corrode and corrupt the national consciousness, which it has for far too long. It rots the notion of nation-building.

The truth is that the vast majority of Malays will support a national anti-racism campaign if the government, led by elite Malays, is willing to tackle it.

This will require the Malay elites to exhibit moral courage – not to mention adhere to Islamic teachings – and to put a stop to their use of race to stay in power by dominating other races, including the indigenous population.

Most Malays I have spoken with or interviewed – from taxi drivers and vendors to students and young professionals – are in fact silently ashamed/malu of being associated with such an abhorrent system of institutionalised racism that has tainted the name of the country and their race globally and which at the same time goes against the tenets of Islam.

Yet the silence of the elites is deafening.

All Malaysians are equal and any government that is unwilling to publicly say this and take action to dismantle all forms of racial discrimination from education to employment opportunities is abdicating its primary obligation: preserving and protecting the rights and wellbeing of each and every member of the society it has been chosen to lead.

*Chandran Nair is the founder and chief executive officer of the Global Institute For Tomorrow (GIFT), an independent pan-Asian think tank.*